My husband Vikram, 38 years old, a commerce graduate has a gambling problem. He has spent the entire savings that we had on his gambling. He was working as an accountant in a cloth firm but lost his job 4 years back due to his irregularity because of the gambling habit. He has been gambling from the age of 18 years. Initially it was just a social activity and on festivals only. It gradually increased and since the last 10 years, he started going to the gambling dens. Right now, he finds it irresistible to avoid gambling even though he has to borrow money or sell my ornaments to gamble. He has always lost money but refuses to understand. We have two children aged 14 and 10 years respectively. I am worried about their education and future. Right now, we live in a joint family, so I do not have to worry about food and shelter, but I am concerned about my children. Since the last 3 months, Vikram also looks very sad. He has a debt of 6 lacs rupees. He has also started to drink because of the gambling worries. Please advise me about his gambling habit.
Vikram is a pathological gambler. He fails at resisting the impulse to gamble despite severe and devastating personal, family and vocational consequences. The gambling dominates his life to the detriment of social, vocational, material and family values and commitments. He would be preoccupied with thoughts of gambling, planning his next move or thinking about getting money to gamble. The need to gamble with increasing amounts of money in order to achieve the desired excitement increases. He has repeated unsuccessful efforts to control, cut back or stop gambling. He becomes restless or irritable if asked to stop gambling. He often gambles to escape from problems or relieve a sad mood when he is feeling helpless, guilty or worried. He has a penchant for chasing losses and returns back after losing to get even. He lies to his family members or others to conceal his involvement with gambling. He is likely to commit illegal acts to get money for gambling. The habit has jeopardized his relationships and career opportunities. There are four phases of the formation of this habit. In the first (winning) phase, a big win stimulates feelings of omnipotence. Sometimes one may have resorted to gambling in order to escape overwhelming problems. Thus, there are 2 possible motivators for ongoing gambling activity – action seeking characterized by the big win or escape seeking. In the second (losing) phase, Vikram either has a string of bad luck or begins to find losing intolerable. He then alters his strategy in an attempt to win back everything at once (chasing). Debts accrue, and there is a sense of urgency and an attempt to cover up both the behavior and the losses by lies. Relationships suffer as he becomes irritable and secretive. In the third (desperation) phase, he engages in illegal and often uncharacteristic ways to obtain money to gamble. He may sell off household items, or resort to bad checks to obtain money. This then results in sadness and suicidality. The fourth and final phase (hopelessness) involves an acceptance that losses can never be made good. Nevertheless, gambling may continue with the main motivation of getting excitement. Alcohol use may accelerate this process.
How you can help?
The approach here involves short-term and long-term goals. The short-term goals are to get a stable job with continued abstinence from gambling. The long-term goal involves reconnecting with the family from whom he has alienated himself. First, he has to be helped to avoid gambling altogether. You could take professional help for this. The reasons for gambling should be viewed. Alternatives should be provided for dealing with the excitement that he can get from gambling. The hope of recouping losses and feelings of omnipotence also need to be addressed. You have to help him realize the futility of holding on to these thoughts. The other issues to be addressed are the present depression that he is going through. He may need medications for it and family support to come out of the depression. The use of alcohol to get over the feelings of sadness should be curtailed. The main issue would be of being able to rehabilitate Vikram in a life, which is free of gambling. There would be many personality issues that would need to be addressed. He has a dislike for hard work and wants to obtain money in quick time. He needs to start valuing the relationship that he has with you and to start valuing his role as a father and what he can do for his children. He may have to let go of many dreams of loads of money and what he could do with it. This may be difficult but consistent support would definitely help him. His depression might worsen initially when all this realization of having lost out on the golden years of youth comes in, but if the gambling is avoided and family support is there, he may recover.
Note – There are many people like Vikram, chiefly those who have lost a lot of money in the stock market. They have also gone through a similar phase of life, having earned a few times through lucky trading and then taken on losses that they are reeling even years after. Many have lost their life’s savings on this gambling and they should follow the same recommendations. It may be tough as the stock market may well be their only source of income, but they need to find an alternative here.